Gold: How Oregon State can pull off the impossible and dash the Pac-12’s playoff dreams
Let’s just get this right out of the way: Yes, Oregon State can do what few expect them to do the next 2 weeks and beat Washington and Oregon in that order, throwing a wrench into the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff plans while dealing themselves a trip to Las Vegas.
They’ve got the ground game and the defense, the passing upside and the coaching.
Any other team this year? I’m not so sure.
Utah barely went down swinging. USC? Come on.
The Beavers are uniquely situated to pull off the improbable, bordering on the impossible. It will come down to just a handful of reasons, but it’s doable.
Here’s what has to go right for Jonathan Smith and Co. …
The ground game keeps grinding
Oregon State’s biggest strength is its deep and prolific running game, which ranks 3rd in the conference in yards per game and touchdowns and 2nd in yards per carry.
But with all due respect to the Beavers’ depth — which includes the talented Deshaun Fenwick, who would probably start for 75 other schools — Oregon State needs an ample dose of Damien Martinez.
The star sophomore broke out of a mini slump, rejoining the ranks of the century mark club with his 21-carry, 116-yard game against Colorado in Week 10 before exploding for 147 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 52-17 win over Stanford on Saturday.
He’d been held below 100 yards for 5 straight games before then, which might as well be a decade by Martinez’ standards. Before then, he’d racked up 9 straight 100-yard regular-season games.
It wasn’t like he’d totally disappeared — even in his “down” weeks, he was till averages better than 85 yards per game.
But that’s a far cry from 147 and 4. If he approaches those numbers, the Beaver are going to be a tough beat.
DJ Uiagalelei plays out of his mind
In the ultra-prolific Pac-12, which doubles as an arms factory and truly makes any responsible comparison basically moot, it’s fair to say that Oregon State’s first-year starting quarterback has both been a marked improvement over last year and also underwhelmed at the same time.
Uiagalelei has been good ever since arriving from Clemson, and maybe even great on one special Saturday against Cal, when he threw for 5 touchdowns in a 52-40 win over the Bears.
Other than that game, DJU has been steady. He’s had one other big-time game, kicking off the year with 3 passing touchdowns and 2 rushing, but that was against San Jose State.
He hasn’t passed for 300 yards once this season. He’s topped a 65% completion percentage just once since Week 1. But he’s also thrown just 4 interceptions to 20 touchdowns, all 4 of those picks coming in a 3-game midseason stretch. Since Week 5, zero interceptions.
Can he take it to another level, though? If the Beavers are going to make it to Sin City, Uiagalelei is going to have to hit overdrive.
Beavers dash some Heisman dreams
Michael Penix Jr. had his second-worst game of the season last year against the Beavers, completing just 30-of-52 passes for 298 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Washington’s 3-point win.
In 2022, Bo Nix was very good through the air with 327 yards and a pair of scores, but Oregon State completely shut down his rushing effectiveness, holding him to a season-low negative-5 rushing yards in the Beavers’ surprising 38-34 upset.
In other words — sure, the big, bad Heisman contenders are scary, but the Beavs have been here before.
Then again … are any 2 quarterbacks in the country playing better than the PNW passers?
They will both likely end up in the Big Apple for the Heisman presentation in December, and deservedly so, with both ranking among national leaders in every passing category.
Oregon State will stand a chance only if it quiets their respective passing games…
Pin their ears back
… and that will only happen if it’s the Beavers who bring the noise.
And we know they can. Oregon State is tied with UCLA for the league lead with 36 sacks, along with an impressive 67.0 tackles for loss.
The Beavers know how to create havoc, especially linebacker Andrew Chatfield, who is on the hot streak of a lifetime.
Before Week 9, Chatfield had just 6.5 sacks in his 5-year career between Oregon State and Florida. He has 6 sacks the last 3 weeks, including 3 in Week 10 against Colorado and 2 more on Saturday against Stanford, to go along with a forced fumble.
If he and the Beavers get some pressure on Penix and Nix, they’ll keep it close.
Jonathan Smith keeps his eye on the prize
If Smith were some kind of mercenary or hired gun, perhaps I’d be a bit more worried about a wandering eye.
Smith is not-so-suddenly one of the hottest coaching names in the game, affixed to the hit boards of both Texas A&M and Michigan State. His Beavers have improved from 9-22 in his 1st three years to 25-11 since the beginning of 2021. Last year’s 10-win campaign was the program’s first since 2006.
All that leads to plenty of prying inquiries for Smith. Now is certainly not the time to get distracted.
Plus, he’s got too much of a good thing going on in Corvallis.